Today, the oldest statewide drug prevention organization in California, Californians for Drug Free Youth (CADFY) joined with prominent voices in academia and policy to oppose the endorsement of marijuana legalization on October 16th by the California Medical Association (CMA) and to urge other medical societies considering a similar endorsement to consider all of the implications of taking such an action. The California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM), for example, is currently reviewing their position. Though CMA and CSAM both acknowledge the dangers of marijuana use – including its addictive potential – and oppose the widespread “medical” use of the drug, CMA endorsed legalization as a way to enhance further research, and CSAM will soon determine their final decision. Both the American Medical Association and American Society of Addiction Medicine oppose legalization, though they advocate for more research, a position CADFY also holds.
“The position taken by CMA flies in the face of their own research showing marijuana’s addictive potential and research from think tanks like RAND which concluded that legalization will lower marijuana’s price and thus increase use,” said John Redman, Executive Director of Californians for Drug Free Youth. RAND’s study, Altered State, concluded that drug use would increase with legalization, and that claims of large amounts of revenue received by the state under legalization were highly uncertain. “We’re concerned that politics trumped science here and we urge other groups like CSAM not to follow suit.”
Indeed, both the CMA and CSAM have discussed how marijuana can be especially harmful to young people. A CSAM document lists “Five reasons exist for focusing on the impact that marijuana has on children and adolescents: (1) The brain continues to undergo important development up until the age of 25. (2) Children and adolescents are at far greater risk of becoming dependent on marijuana, and dependence happens far more quickly. (3) Children and adolescents are more significantly affected by marijuana, even before dependence occurs. (4) Structural changes have been found in the brains of young marijuana users. (5) Subtle effects from marijuana on emotions and reasoning are increasingly being demonstrated in all marijuana users.” The California Medical Association said this in a 2011 report: “Cannabis use has…been associated with several health risks including addiction, memory loss and slower reaction time, development of psychotic disorders, and reproductive risks.
Other addiction medicine experts share concern about legalization. As Stanford University School of Medicine Professor and former Obama Advisor Keith Humphreys, Ph.D, stated, “Given how bravely the medical profession has fought against the tobacco industry, it’s sad to see some doctors endorsing the creation of another corporate industry that will advertise and sell an addictive, smoked drug.”
Kevin Sabet, Ph.D., who just stepped down as senior policy advisor to President Obama’s drug czar, commented that “The CMA decided that the solution to more research on marijuana – which is indeed a legitimate pursuit – is to completely legalize marijuana for all purposes, and then study it. But this is backwards. Why would we need to legalize marijuana first, and risk the endangerment of public health, as a prerequisite for its study?”
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